Efficient Gaming #5 (Indie Edition)

By | 05/31/2018

It’s finally time for another edition of Efficient Gaming.  The efficient gaming list highlights video games (on most platforms) that should be rewarding for those that don’t have a lot of spare time to game.  We usually showcase games that are fairly modern and feature design elements that are compatible with short gaming sessions.  This time around, we’re taking a look at some of the best independent titles we’ve picked up along the way.  (I know “indie” is a label that gets thrown around a lot these days, but for our purposes we consider a developer to be independent when they don’t utilize a publisher OR their work is not obviously tied to a publisher’s demands.)

Poly Bridge

Link: Poly Bridge
Platform: PC Windows (Steam)/ PC Linux (Steam) / iOS 9.0+
Game Type: Puzzle/Physics Simulation
Format: Single Player
Cost: Steam - $11.99 USD  / iOS - $4.99 USD
Avg Session Time: 5 minutes to 30 minutes

Poly Bridge is a bridge-building physics game.  That’s it.  That’s all you need to know.  If you like building bridges, go buy it.  No? Yes? OK.  I’ll go bit more in depth.  There is plenty to entertain you for the $12 you are going to spend on Steam.  It includes over 100 campaign challenges and a “sandbox” mode.  It’s the kind of game that you might not realize you enjoy until you get into it.  As with most puzzle games, the first ten levels are relatively easy before ramping up into increasingly complex and difficult challenges.  My favorite aspect of Poly Bridge is that almost all stages are open ended challenges.  As long as the bridge (or whatever you build) allows for completion of the stage requirements, you can move on to the next challenge.  As the challenge increases in Poly Bridge, so follows the complexity and options for completion.  Personally, I had a lot of fun trying to “ramp” cars to their objective.  Why build a normal bridge when you can build a sweet jump?

Design Mode

Poly Bridge Design Mode – screenshot gallery at http://polybridge.drycactus.com/

The Steam version is fully supported by Steam Workshop.  You can build you own challenges or show off your most unique creations to the Poly Bridge community.  I also want to mention the soundtrack is excellent and fits the theme of the game perfectly.  You can buy the soundtrack separately if you so desire (included in the deluxe edition).

Stories: The Path of Destinies

Link: Stories
Platform: PC Windows / PS4 
Game Type: ARPG Roguelite Similar 
Format: Single Player
Cost: Steam - $14.99 USD (see other stores for prices)
Avg Session Time: 10 minutes to 1 hour

Stories: The Path of Destinies is one of those games that borrows elements from other genres, competently weaves them together, and proves the whole is more than the sum of its parts.  In the strictest sense, Stories is an action RPG that can be “completed” in about fifteen minutes.  That may sound ridiculous, but the short gameplay cycle is a design element that drives the core functions of the game.  With every play-through, the player makes different choices, tackles different challenges, and uncovers the “truth” about their situation.  The player’s adventure is highlighted by a narrator, who tells the tale in real time, as the story continues.  It’s an excellent addition to a beautiful, accessible game.

Stories Combat

The combat in Stories is relatively simple, but it’s fast/fluid, and it works (usually). – Presskit: http://www.storiesthepathofdestinies.com/

As with most ARPG games, the player character gains experience levels and then uses that experience to make themselves more powerful.  There are also four different swords that the player can obtain in order to aid them on their adventure.  The control and moment-to-moment action is solid and responsive, but I did run into some issues with the character reacting to input.  I could never quite figure out what I was doing wrong or why the game occasionally ignored my commands.  Regardless of a few control issues, Stories a fantastic adventure/ARPG game and definitely fits right into the mold of efficient gaming.  If you are an ARPG fan, I highly recommend you check it out.

Into the Breach

Link: Subset Games 
Platform: PC Windows (Steam, GOG, Humble Bundle) 
Game Type: Turn Based Strategy / Roguelite Similar
Format: Single Player 
Cost: Steam - $14.99 USD (see other stores for prices) 
Avg Session Time: 10 minutes to 1 hour

On the surface, Into the Breach (ITB) is a turn based strategy game with mechs fighting giant creators/aliens/monsters.  Under the surface, however, you find a game that flips a lot of traditional conventions upside down.  The most interesting part of ITB is that the player is given perfect information regarding enemy action.  Most turn based games hide enemy information in the “fog of war” but that is not the case in ITB.  The outcome of each action (and enemy action) is shown before the player commits.  If it sounds like this would make the game too easy, it doesn’t.  Similar to FTL, ITB is a difficult game that can throw near impossible scenarios at the player.  Enemy information is provided in order to challenge the player to find the “best” sequence of actions (“best” being subjective).  The game can, and will, create impossible scenarios.  I didn’t even make it past the first (non-tutorial) level in the game.  If the game ends, an upgraded pilot can be sent back in time to assist on the next adventure.

ITB first level

ITB first level – Not easy

Similar to other roguelites, each play-through uses random-seeded procedural generation.  Every challenge is unique.  Thankfully, with the ability to “save” some of your progress, by sending a high level character back in time, the game feels a lot more “fair” than FTL.  The co-author of GO30, JBreeze, is a big fan of FTL and he highly recommends ITB even if FTL wasn’t your kind of game.   The game even rewards you for completing achievements.  If you spend enough time with ITB, it can be beat (and fairly easily once certain actions are complete).

Indie games can be difficult to judge.  They often appeal to those looking for that extra challenge, or that unique gameplay mechanic, that isn’t available in mainstream titles.  That said, the games featured here are well designed, unique, and most importantly, fun.  If any of them sound interesting to you, I suggest you go check them out.  Let us know what you think in the comments or on Twitter.  Good luck!